USDA announcement to impact student lunches

Earlier this week, the USDA gave school districts some added flexibility in meeting nutrition requirements

Changes may be coming to your student's lunch tray.

Earlier this week, the US Department of Agriculture gave school districts some added flexibility in meeting nutrition requirements, easing some of the Obama-era rules.

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue's announcement on Monday affects three things: salt, milk and whole grains.

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The USDA says states can continue granting waivers to districts, allowing them to substitute whole grain-enriched flour for white flour.

Also, schools can now offer flavored one-percent milk. Before this week, schools could only offered flavored skim milk.

And districts have been required to cap the amount of sodium in school lunches', with even tighter restrictions coming July 1. The USDA now says current salt levels are fine.

Some say the changes are a step in the wrong direction.

Margo Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest says, "ninety percent of American kids eat too much sodium every day. Schools have been moving in the right direction, so it makes no sense to freeze that progress in its tracks—and allow dangerously high levels of salt in school lunch."

Others say the changes don't go far enough.

Mary Effler is nutrition supervisor for Union County Schools.

She admits Obama-era nutrition requirements have had some good impact on students.

"Their intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, it has increased," she said, adding students are now taking to sweet potatoes more than they ever have before.

These nutrition requirements, however, can be complicated, difficult and expensive to follow.

"We were supposed to provide students with meals that were 100 percent whole grain-enriched. That's very costly to school systems," Effler explained. "Also, it's new to students, and they're not used to eating, you know, things that are so whole grain-enriched."

That means some healthy items ended up in the garbage.

"If the food doesn't taste good, students are not eating that, and when you're not eating that, you're not getting the nutrition," she said.

Union County was one of the districts that was previously granted a whole grain-enriched flour waiver, so students there won't see that change in school lunches, with the USDA's continuation of that allowance.

One change Union County Schools might see is in its milk supply. Effler said the district may consider adding flavored 1 percent milk to its meals.

Effler seemed most relieved about the USDA's decision not to increase restrictions on sodium levels.

"Had we had to move to that level 2, it's a significant decrease in the amount of sodium that we were allowed weekly," Effler said, adding the district would have had to "continue seeking more items that are low-sodium, no sodium."

In the future, Effler said she'd like to see further easings of the requirements, including an increase in the calorie cap, especially at the high school level.

"Things are moving in the right direction, but there's still some need for flexibility, I believe," Effler said. "I understand that it is baby steps.”

All of these USDA changes impact school breakfast programs, as well as lunches.

© 2017 WBIR.COM


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